We carried a box turtle to my parent’s house for our weekend visit. My mom did not greet it warmly. “A boy died from handling his pet turtle before they realized turtles carry salmonella,”she said.
Before we returned home, my husband took Mom aside and said, “I left the turtle in the woods. We won’t be taking it home.” She looked relieved.
Turtles have come and gone from our family. None have stayed long enough to infect us with salmonella, although one did overstay its welcome. It was not the turtle’s fault. We let it wander around the house when it first arrived. As we went through our bedtime routine, it went in and out of the rooms seeking a hiding place.
Days later, I waved the kids off for a day of school. Quiet descended over the house. I sat down to do some paperwork. A strange, ominous noise broke the silence.
Heart in my throat, I pushed back my chair and stood up and I listened. It seemed to be coming from down the hall. I stepped into the boys’ room. The scratching noise increased. I opened their closet door and moved aside toys the boys had shoved in there to “clean” their room and found the turtle. It lay upside down among the toys, waving its feet, struggling in vain to tip itself over.
I picked it up, “You need to go back where you live.” I carried it to the back door and left it on the ground. I should have painted a little number on top of it as someone did to another box turtle visitor that came a few years later. The visiting granddaughters found it and squealed, “Look, it’s a turtle with a white stripe!” when they saw it in the bed of irises. They studied it a bit, mostly avoided touching it and left it in the yard before they went home.
We did not expect to see it again. But we did. The next summer it showed up again among the irises – white stripe and all. Turtles do not wander far.
All those memories flooded back last week when our neighbor knocked at the door, “Would you like a turtle?” she held out a blue plastic basket holding a box turtle. I knew she meant would our visiting grandsons want one.
Yes, we would. The grandsons live in a highly urban area where few turtles wander into any yards. Hearing the news, Sam, 10, came in the room asking, “Is it a for real turtle?”
“Yes, it’s a real turtle,” we laughed. At first he simply watched it walk around the living room. I closed all the doors I could to discourage it from finding a hiding place in a bedroom. Sam had to touch it. Henry refused to even pet the turtle’s hard shell. He hung over its temporary home in a plastic tote watching it come out of its shell. He jumped back fast at any invitation to move closer to that turtle.
“It’s a box turtle. We’ll call it Box,” they announced. We searched the Internet and learned its brown eyes and shell shape meant we had a female. Turtles do not register on the furry, cute pet scale. Sam did not care. He held and studied her at length. Sam discovered teeth marks where a large animal had pierced the turtle’s protective shell before deciding against a turtle lunch.
When Sam asked, “Can Box eat at the table with us?” We refused having a turtle for lunch. “No pets at the table.”
Turtles are welcome to visit. They are not invited to stay.
Joan Hershberger is a former reporter for the El Dorado News-Times.